Scientists have discovered the gene that leads mosquitoes to bite some people over others, although they are yet to determine why they have such a preference.
The QIMR Berghofer medical research institute has been working with dozens of scientists from around the world to map the genome sequence of the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
They now have the most “complete picture” of the mosquito’s genes, which carries Dengue Fever and the Zika virus, and causes millions of deaths worldwide every year.
Dr Gordana Rasic from QMIR’s mosquito control laboratory said they had discovered several new genes, including ones that determine why some people are especially prone to mosquito bites.
“We still don’t have the answer yet as to why some mosquitoes target some people and not others … but we have identified that gene,” Dr Rasic said.
“Once we know the candidates, that might determine what makes someone more resistant, or more attractive to the mosquito, we can manipulate the genes.”
Dr Rasic said they had also discovered the genes that make some mosquitoes resistant to repellent.
She said QIMR researchers had been working with several other institutions, including The Rockefeller University in New York, to map the genes of the mosquitoes after Zika virus ripped through the western hemisphere in 2015.
A World Health Organisation summary that year found hundreds of thousands of Zika virus cases were reported across 33 countries that year, with 76 deaths due to congenital malformations.
Dr Rasic said the research would allow them to eventually genetically modify the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
“One of the key things that we want to achieve is to modify these mosquitoes in a way that will help control them,” Dr Rasic said.
She said the genome research would compliment other experiments aimed at eradicating the mosquito, including sterilisation.
Researchers released millions of sterile Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in several communities near Cairns in far north Queensland.
The mosquitoes were infected with the Wolbachia bacteria, which renders male mosquitoes infertile.
“I don’t think there is a silver bullet for controlling mosquitoes, not one single strategy will be enough to control the mosquitoes globally, ” Dr Rasic said.
“Wolbachia is a good solution for some environments but I think it’s not the perfect solution for all environments so we definitely need to work on various methods.”